The chemical attacks that occured in Douma, Syria on Saturday were barbaric and deserve a response. But rushing into world war three on the heels of a deranged despot armed with Twitter and nuclear codes is not the response it deserves.
As I’m writing, Theresa May has just concluded her cabinet meeting on the situation, the unanimous agreement of which: action must be taken on the Syrian conflict.
May – ambiguous as ever – has not specified what form this ‘action’ will take. Following the political climate, it can be presumed as military intervention in the form of air strikes.
This development is worrying in a number of ways.
Firstly, it is undemocratic to the nth degree. May is proposing a serious diplomatic move; one that not only involves military intervention in another country, but also necessitates asserting our alliance with the US and France against Syria and Russia.
It is not inconceivable to imagine an international conflict spiralling out of the Syrian conflict
None of which has been informed by any formal democratic process.
May has consulted only her cabinet, with no likely recourse with parliament or the public. It is clear why. David Cameron learnt the hard way that parliament does not support action in Syria in 2013. General discomfort still pervades discussions on Syria today.
May is in an even worse position than Cameron, holding a minority government that is losing faith in her by the second. It is unsurprising therefore that she has chosen to bypass democratic accountability in order to pursue action in Syria. In a weak position, she cannot afford to lose any more ground.
Yet bombing Syria – which can be the presumed course of action she means to take – is an irreversible action. One that at its best – and I do not say this lightly – would involve a high death toll of combatants and civilians alike, and at its worse a spiral into international conflict. Russia have already promised to retaliate if the UK goes ahead with the strikes.
Of course, it must be noted that involving parliament in decisions over military action does not always result in the better course of action being chosen. Such is democracy. Afterall, parliament greenlighted Blair’s military intervention in Iraq in 2003.
Yet, as a democracy and with an awareness of the severity of the situation and its possible consequences, surely the best course of action is one that is democratic and moderate – values we supposedly champion within international politics.
Sidelining parliament in this decision is even more risky and dubious given the channels that May is giving attention to, namely Trump. Notoriously quick to act (tweet) and slow to think, Trump is advocating action in Syria in his usual aggressively incoherent manner. Backed by Macron, it is easy to see a Western alliance emerging – one that May is desperate to join to defend her position.
Following populist leaders is dangerous. Especially given the severity of the situation and the animosity of the states involved, it is not inconceivable to imagine an international conflict spiralling out of the Syrian conflict.
What is worst is that, despite the rhetoric, action is not based on an actual promise to help cease the Syrian conflict and alleviate its civilian impact. It is instead based on international grabs for alliance and shows of strength.
It is suspicious to say the least that mere weeks after the Skripal case, May has decided to support a policy and a country that are antagonistic to say the least towards the main suspect, Russia. May is parading military intervention as an attempt to help when really using it as a diplomatic move against Russia and towards Trump.
Therefore, I cannot prescribe a course of action over Syria. It is a humanitarian issue and perhaps I am focusing on the bureaucracy behind it when action should be taken swiftly to help. Yet acting rashly and following populist policy into an international crisis is dangerous. May will regret it and, likely, so will the country.